Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Anthropology Goes to the Fair: The 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Synopsis

World's fairs and industrial expositions constituted a phenomenally successful popular culture movement during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition to the newest technological innovations, each exposition showcased commercial and cultural exhibits, entertainment concessions, national and corporate displays of wealth, and indigenous peoples from the colonial empires of the host country. As scientists claiming specialized knowledge about indigenous peoples, especially American Indians, anthropologists used expositions to promote their quest for professional status and authority. Anthropology Goes to the Fair takes readers through the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition to see how anthropology, as conceptualized by W J McGee, the first president of the American Anthropological Association, showcased itself through programs, static displays, and living exhibits for millions of people "to show each half of the world how the other half lives." More than two thousand Native peoples negotiated and portrayed their own agendas on this world stage. The reader will see how anthropology itself was changed in the process.

Excerpt

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (LPE) was held in St. Louis, Missouri, from May to December 1904, to commemorate the United States' 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France for sixty million francs, or roughly three cents an acre, arguably the best land deal in American history. Popularly called the St. Louis World's Fair, the exposition extended over 1,240 acres, the largest in area of any exposition up to that time, or since. the exposition pavilions alone enclosed 128 acres and were filled with wonders.

The organizers wanted to be sure that their fellow Americans understood the historical importance of celebrating the Louisiana Purchase. the federal government, states, and historical societies sent precious iconic heirlooms and reproductions to document American history, patriotism, and nationalism: Daniel Webster's rocking chair, Abraham Lincoln's boyhood cabin, and President Teddy Roosevelt's Western ranch house. New Jersey reconstructed a tavern Washington used during the American Revolution, and Mississippi replicated Jefferson Davis's home, Beauvoir.

The exposition also glorified America's increasing control over the world's natural resources and in particular how business acumen and ingenuity, coupled with scientific and technological know-how, were pushing the United States to the forefront of the industrialized nations. Visitors exclaimed in awe over the symbols of immense accumulated wealth. They gaped at the gigantic electric generators that illuminated buildings and the artificial lagoons. They saw hundreds of the newest technological advances including small electric motors to run factory machines, intended to eliminate the steam engines and belt systems of nineteenth-century factories. There was a Biograph movie showing the giant Westinghouse factory complex in Pittsburgh that covered fourteen hundred acres and employed eleven thousand workers. They saw the first successful “wireless telegraph” that would soon change world communications. Crowds flocked to see the fossil remains of a triceratops in the Gov-

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